Example: Would have Tsar Nicolas II be able to hand his reign over to someone family or non family related to continue his reign or was this prohibited?
The concept is known as abdication. In some cases of history, leaders of a monarchy have been "allowed", or in reality coerced to give up the throne to a family member.
Since you specifically brought up Tsar Nicolas II, we can definitely say no. He attempted first to abdicate to his son, then quickly to another family member Grand Duke Michael Aleksandrovich.
The new government at the time was known as the Provisional government and did not accept this. But more importantly, this was essentially the beginning of the Russian Civil War. No party ever endorsed the Grand Duke and it was not until the end of the Russian Civil War that one party established power in Russia.
How to be a successful monarch
Longevity is a great personal achievement for a monarch, although it is not a marker of success on its own. Queen Victoria’s 63 years and 216 days defined an age in British history but in terms of relative accomplishment and reputation-building, Henry V’s nine years and 163 days – during which he won at Agincourt and conquered France – were pretty potent too.
That being said, a long reign can be a good way to earn a lasting reputation. Elizabeth I (44 years) and Edward III (50 years) were both remarkably tenacious rulers, and although both eventually went rather stale, they were living legends by their old age. George III (59 years) followed much the same path. His reign ended, like Edward III’s, in the misery of personal decay and mental collapse, but before that came victories in the Seven Years’ War and the Napoleonic Wars, and survival during the sorely testing American War of Independence.
How not to do it
Henry III lasted 56 years, but there was precious little to celebrate. Failure in his attempts to invade France and, risibly, Sicily, was followed by a dreadful war with the English barons that saw Henry virtually deposed by his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort.
Rocky relationships can often lead to rocky reigns
Behind – or beside – almost every successful monarch is a trusted consort. Elizabeth II has Prince Philip. Victoria had Albert. William III (and II) and Mary II had one another. Henry VIII began his reign with one fine queen, Catherine of Aragon, and ended it with another, Katherine Parr – although he had to go through four other, rather less satisfactory, versions in between.
One of the most intriguing partnerships in the history of the British monarchy was the marriage between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152. This ultimately brought Eleanor’s huge southern French duchy into union with the English crown and the links between England and Gascony would endure for 300 years. And since Eleanor had previously been married to Louis VII of France, her remarriage to Henry signalled a huge shift in continental power away from the Capetian dynasty toward the new Plantagenet crown.
Henry and Eleanor fell out dramatically in 1173–74 when the queen encouraged her sons in a massive rebellion and was imprisoned for more than a decade. However, she endured and emerged in old age to hold together the reigns of Richard the Lionheart and, until her death in 1204, her youngest son, King John.
How not to do it
Mary, Queen of Scots never had the greatest judgment, and her decision to marry her cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in 1565 was among her worst. Darnley turned out to be a drunken, diseased murderer, who was eventually strangled before his house was blown up with gunpowder in 1567.
Have fertile loins
A golden rule of monarchy: you can never produce too many successors
The most basic fact of British monarchy is that it is hereditary. Its future depends on maintaining a large royal family who can ensure that the bloodline survives, no matter what. Notable successes in this field include Henry II – whose children numbered three kings of England, and queens of Castile and Sicily. Edward III’s many children restocked the Plantagenet dynasty during a lean time at the end of the 14th century.
Even Henry VIII, whose troubles with producing an heir had such a profound effect on English history, managed to father three more Tudor monarchs, carrying the dynasty to the end of the 16th century. Perhaps the greatest success of all, however, was George III, who produced 15 children with his queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Two of his sons (George IV and William IV) ruled after him, and although neither produced a direct heir, Queen Victoria (George III’s granddaughter through his fourth son, Edward, Duke of Kent) still inherited the crown in 1837.
We should, however, remember Queen Anne, who gave birth to 17 children – only one of whom reached the age of two – and died at the age of 49 without a child to succeed her. No matter how many children you have, you can never have too many.
How not to do it
It’s all very well spreading the royal seed, but it needs to remain in the family. Henry I fathered more than 20 children, but only two were legitimate: William the Ætheling, who died in a shipwreck, and the Empress Matilda. When Henry died in 1135 his decision to name Matilda as his heir led to the 19-year civil war known as the Anarchy.
Architecture can be the saving of even the worst ruler’s legacy
Monarchy is stamped into the landscape as much as it is written in the history books, and even otherwise useless rulers have obtained some redemption through their building works. To the otherwise inadequate Plantagenet rulers Henry III and Henry VI, for example, we owe Westminster Abbey, Eton and King’s College, Cambridge.
In the Middle Ages, kings built castles, and in that sense, all were following the lead of their ancestor William the Conqueror, whose campaigns in England in the 11th century were secured by building and garrisoning fortresses.
In the 13th century, Edward I commissioned the stunning ring of fortresses around Snowdonia, including the castles at Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech. Later, Windsor Castle was extensively remodelled by several monarchs, most notably Edward III in the 14th century and George IV in the 1820s.
During the Stuart restoration, the classical-baroque style flourished, under masters like Christopher Wren (whose masterpiece was the new St Paul’s Cathedral) and Nicholas Hawksmoor (who developed Wren’s work in Greenwich).
The last great phase of royal building came under Queen Victoria – or, rather, Prince Albert. Balmoral was created as a royal holiday residence in Scotland, while in London the museums and cultural spaces around South Kensington were begun under Albert’s influence (and, later, in his memory).
How not to do it
Royal building is an exercise in controlling your own legacy. Elizabeth I refused to follow royal custom by designing her own tomb. Thus she rests in Westminster Abbey beneath a squat, ugly effigy ordered by James VI and I, which compares noticeably badly to the tomb of James’s mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth had executed.
You’re not a true royal superhero until you’ve thrown your weight around abroad
The mythical king Arthur – once an archetype for great kingship – was famous for having extended his influence far beyond the shores of England. According to the original Arthurian pseudohistory, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century, Arthur travelled sword in hand to Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul, and conquered a large swathe of northern Europe, much to the irritation of the Romans. “The fame of Arthur’s generosity and bravery spread to the very ends of the Earth,” wrote Geoffrey. Ever since, we have admired monarchs who advanced their influence in a similar fashion.
During the Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart and Edward I earned their military reputations fighting in the crusades Edward III and Henry V expanded the territorial reach of the English crown to include great chunks of France. During the late Tudor and Stuart ages royal subjects populated the New World, and at the apogee of British imperialism under Queen Victoria, the crown’s influence really did extend to “the ends of the Earth”, as empire expanded to include India, Australia, Canada, southern Africa and south-east Asia.
Today the house of Windsor exercises ‘soft’ power over the Commonwealth, but Elizabeth II is probably the most internationally travelled monarch in history, having been on state visits to scores of countries, from Ireland to Zimbabwe, China to the Vatican City.
How not to do it
George I, first of the Hanoverians, got things the wrong way around, being far more focused on life in his native Germany than on spreading his fame and renown in Britain, where he held his crown. An unpopular and largely unsuccessful king, he is ill-remembered today.
Learn how to delegate
Remember, you’re never too regal to rely on advice from lesser mortals
Even a great king or queen cannot rule by themselves: the most successful find able servants on whom they can rely for advice, information and diligence in carrying out the royal wish.
At its best, monarchy is the business of building partnerships with these sorts of counsellors and servants, and the list of effective pairings is long. Henry II had Thomas Becket. Henry V had Cardinal Beaufort. Henry VIII had Thomas Cromwell. Elizabeth I had Lord Burghley and, later, his son, Robert Cecil. George III had William Pitt the Younger. Of course, in the case of Becket and Cromwell, things ended fatally for the counsellor. That was the hazard of the job.
Even in the modern age, when ministers have been thrust upon monarchs by democratic election, rather than hand-picked under royal prerogative, it has been possible for those born to power and those raised to it by the people to work in successful partnership. Circumstance threw together George VI and Winston Churchill, and despite their many differences, their relationship was an important part of Britain’s victory in the Second World War.
How not to do it
Edward II made perhaps the worst choice of advisors in history. His childhood friend Piers Gaveston was murdered by the king’s irate barons. His later favourites, the Despenser family, caused a rebellion and civil war following which Edward was forced to abdicate and was murdered in Berkeley Castle.
Treat life like a catwalk
You’re powerful, you’re chivalrous, you’re magnificent – so dress like it
Monarchs are supposed to look different from their subjects, and the best of them understand this. During Edward III’s day, a cult of chivalrous and magnificent kingship was created around lavish outward display, huge tournaments and parties in which the king and his friends would wear elaborate costumes of exotic birds, or monks.
Subsequently, Edward IV imported the latest Burgundian fashions to the English court, while Edward’s grandson and great-granddaughter, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, stepped things up another level, and made sure their splendid outward display was captured for posterity by the best court painters in Europe.
Since then, kingliness (and queenliness) has regularly been equated with a form of regal high fashion all of its own. This has included the dandyish decadence of Charles II’s court, the tights-wearing pomposity of George IV’s, and the medal-chested military sobriety of George V’s and George VI’s. Today, Elizabeth II has made her own the bold, single-coloured hat-and-coat combinations created by her dresser Angela Kelly.
How not to do it
Henry VI never exuded regality, and though he could dress well, he was better remembered for wearing all black with clumpy farmer’s boots. Paraded through London by his enemies near the end of his life, he was mocked by the population for being dressed in a shabby old blue gown.
Spin, spin, spin
Reality is overrated. In royal circles, it’s perception that matters
One of the best ways to be remembered as a great ruler is to put the word out yourself. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I both took great care to cultivate their own magnificent images. But one of the greatest masters of this art was Henry V. Although undoubtedly a great soldier and extremely talented ruler all round, Henry also understood the importance of influencing the way he was perceived.
Between 1416 and early 1417 a cleric in Henry’s private chapel wrote the Gesta Henrici Quinti – a book portraying Henry as a man on a divinely approved mission to seek justice in France, and establishing much of the public image of Henry that has survived so successfully.
How not to do it
Richard III provides an object lesson in how not to be remembered. Despite his efforts to frame his usurpation in 1483 as legally and morally justified, he remains a highly controversial king. And, for all the efforts of his modern apologists, the Tudor image of a hunchbacked, murdering schemer persists
to this day.
Atheism isn’t an option in a role that gives you a direct line to the Almighty
The permanent and irreversible mark of monarchy is conveyed by anointing the king or queen with holy oil at their coronation – a ritual that has existed since the Middle Ages, and which puts the king or queen in direct communion with God. So the sanctity of monarchy is and has always been a serious business. Medieval kings routinely ascribed their successes to the Almighty, and their successors have been expected to protect the church (which, since the Reformation, has been under their oversight).
It is important, of course, to find the same God as the majority of your subjects. Elizabeth I succeeded where Mary failed in large part because she was a relatively moderate Protestant rather than a Roman Catholic William III (and II) replaced James II (and VII) on the grounds that England would not tolerate another Catholic Stuart king. Even today, when monarchs can once again (in theory and in law) marry Catholics, Elizabeth II and her successors are and will be governors of the Church of England.
How not to do it
There is a fine line between belief in the awesome sanctity of monarchy and a belief that God has pre-approved everything you do. The insistence of James VI and I and Charles I on the divine right of kings played a significant part in the outbreak of the Civil War and the abolition of the monarchy between 1649 and 1660.
Dan Jones is the author of A Realm Divided: A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England, which is to be published by Head of Zeus in October.
The Strain on the British Monarchy
I do not much like the British royal family. The Queen, though by far the best of them, takes increasingly frequent plunges into political correctness. This is presumably because she feels she must, if she is to keep her throne and hand it on to her heirs. The rest of them just seem unable to stay out of one sort of trouble or another, which only matters because there is a lingering idea that they ought to offer the rest of us an example. The latest of these crises has been brought about by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, known to headline-writers as Harry and Meghan, and their very public squabble with the rest of the dynasty.
As I am a monarchist, whatever should I do or think? My obligations to the Crown are strong and unavoidable, but they have been weakened by the decline of my homeland from a great empire into a small, rather puzzled country on the fringe of Europe. In recent generations, members of my family have served in our armed forces, which especially revere the monarchy and are in theory its direct servants. I was born a subject of His Majesty King George VI, and was for a while a subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II&mdashuntil in the 1980s I was converted against my will into a citizen, a clean different thing. Worse, I am a citizen not of England, or even Britain, but of a rather dubious and shaky federal entity: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This odd, hinged and jointed nation often seems on the verge of breakup. It is increasingly referred to at home and abroad as “The Ukay,” a title which, while ugly and brief, does not give offense to any of its fractious parts. But even after all these changes, Her Majesty is still the Head of State, the Lord’s anointed, to whom I bear allegiance. She is also (mainly to keep the pope out) Supreme Governor of the Church of England, during whose services I pray for her every week.
These prayers, dating from the sixteenth century but still in use in more traditionalist churches, are interesting and profound. Addressing the Almighty as “the only ruler of princes who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth,” we ask him to “strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies,” which is perhaps a bit severe for modern sensibilities. We also politely request the Lord God of Hosts to “so rule the heart of thy chosen servant, Elizabeth, our Queen and Governor that she (knowing whose minister she is) may above all things seek thy honour and glory and that we and all her subjects (duly considering whose authority she hath) may faithfully serve, honour and humbly obey her.”
It is the subversive nature of these prayers, especially the parts in parentheses, that keeps me in the monarchist camp. I am amazed that they are still used at all, given how sharply they differ from the democratic consensus and the Gettysburg view that government of, by, and for an equal people is what we all strive for. The clear implication of these petitions is that the monarch is not equal to everyone else but has been appointed by God&mdashand it is for that reason that we owe her our obedience. This appeals to me. I think the cornerstone of civilized government is the supremacy of law over power, and I cannot see how that supremacy can be maintained unless you specifically summon God into your constitution by something like the English coronation rite. For if the law is not “registered in Heaven,” as Abraham Lincoln put it, why should powerful men fear to disobey it?
The Crown of St Edward, surmounted by the Cross of Christ, still hangs on the walls of English courtrooms, adorns the banknotes, appears on official seals and documents, and gleams on the cap badges of the police and the armed forces as the ultimate symbol of authority in our country. These survivals hint reassuringly at a much deeper origin of power, legitimacy, and law than the ballot box that ostensibly decides our national fate. The British traveller to North America, when he crosses the Canadian border, is often comforted by the similar presence of the same Crown. I certainly am. In fact it makes the journey southward to the Great Republic feel like a leap into a sort of void, a void of freedom so endless and unrestrained that it is alarming.
That deep, ancient compact of Crown, law, and God still lurks diffidently in various corridors and corners of our government, and in many of its long and so far unbroken habits. It is decaying and under attack, but it is still there. The principles of civil service neutrality and non-political justice owe much to it. One day it may be important if someone decides to refuse what he thinks is an unlawful order, an act made easier if the government servant’s ultimate loyalty is to the Crown rather than to his bureaucratic or elected chief.
But mainly, these days, the monarchy serves to keep our elected politicians away from the grander, more majestic accoutrements and signs of power. We obey these politicians, and the laws they make, in a grudging sort of way. But we do not usually love or much respect them. They do not, unlike the president of the USA, attempt to embody the country, and this gives us a much greater freedom to criticize them at times of crisis, or if necessary defy their unlawful orders. I think we would revolt if any of our elected leaders bought themselves an equivalent of Air Force One, or insisted on a band playing “Hail to the Chief,” or something similar, as they walked into the room.
The monarch, stripped of all ancient direct power, is now remarkably like the king on a chessboard&mdashalmost incapable of offensive action, but preventing others from occupying a crucial square and those around it.
But what a difficult task this is. I doubt if any human being can now bear the responsibilities of this office: to be silent when you wish to speak, inactive when you wish to act, polite without exception to all your subjects and all your prime ministers. Nor can I see how, in an age when the laws of God are largely scorned, we can realistically expect many in the next generation of princes and princesses to adhere to the rules of Christian marriage, which is both the constitution of private life and the key to all the laws we have. In its subjection of immediate desire to lasting love, it neatly encapsulates the whole principle under which we are governed. Yet who, unless they were brought up in chilly houses, expected to eat austere meals to the last morsel, made to write thank-you letters for every gift, subjected to brisk walks in wind and rain, could ever cope with the public or private demands of monarchy? The Queen, who is now 93, no doubt had such an upbringing. But hardly anyone else living has experienced it.
Her reign must, alas, eventually end. When it does, why not pay the remaining royal figures generous pensions and allow them to slip away into the private lives so many of them crave but cannot lead? Why not have a monarchy, but no monarch? Why not select an elderly, unambitious, self-effacing Regent, close to the end of his or her days, to preside over ceremonies and hand out medals? I offer this as a serious solution. For if we continue as we are, the strain between what we want our kings to be, and what they actually are, will prove too great and we will tumble, accidentally, into becoming a republic.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the London Mail on Sunday.
Resistance to the British
From the 19th century onwards the empire went downhill. The slave trade had been replaced by the trade in palm oil and the Oba enforced a personal export monopoly that did not make him popular among his chiefs and the general population, says the historian.
Therefore, when Oba Ovonramwen kept resisting annexation by the British – as one of the few local leaders who still maintained their independence at the time – he did not receive the usual military back-up from his chiefs.
On February 18, 1897, the once glorious city fell within a day. In the process, the British set a large part of Benin ablaze – though only after ransacking the palace’s treasures, of which the famous bronze sculptures can be seen in the British Museum to this day.
Following the defeat, Oba Ovonramwen was banished to Calabar town, not far from Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.
But the Oba’s opposition to Benin’s invaders contributed to the almost mythical status of the monarchy in modern times, says Osadolor: “He wasn’t popular at the time he came to the throne, but his resistance made him hugely popular afterwards.”
Contemporary subjects of the Benin Kingdom often quote the royal resistance as one of the reasons for their appreciation of the monarchy.
After Ovonramwen died in exile in 1914, the British, who needed a traditional leader for their indirect rule, convinced his son to ascend to the throne. This great-grandfather of the current crown prince had none of the powers of his father, but was presented by the colonial rulers as the new authority, Osadolor explains: “The Oba had become a ceremonial position, but people saw him as the one deciding.”
Even after independence in 1960 the monarch did not regain his previous absolute power. So, on what then is his influence on Benin society based?The ekasa dancers ritually cleansing the ground the crown prince will soon walk on [Femke van Zeijil/Al Jazeera]
Cleopatra: Pharaoh, Politician, Leader, Icon
The thing with a historical figure as iconic as Cleopatra is that lots of people know about her, but less people know her actual deal. Every October there are lots of Cleopatra Halloween costumes, every few years there’s a new Cleopatra appearance on a miniseries or movie she’s inevitably included is most posters and fridge magnet sets and books about Important Women From History. The main things most people may know about her are that she was famously glamorous, she drove at least two Roman men wild with desire, and she died from a snake bite. Guess what! All three of those things are maybe true, but are also some of the least interesting and least important things about her. So why is that what she’s best known for? THE PATRIARCHY STRIKES AGAIN.
So the thing is that nobody has found any Egyptian or Greek (because she was also Greek, more on that in a bit) writing surviving from Cleopatra’s lifetime. What does survive are the writings of several Roman men who truly detested her, and who made sure to include every cruel insult about her they could in their histories of that era. It’s not just a “history written by the victors” scenario but also a “slanderous history written by the misogynist haters who were also the victors” situation. But, between their various catty insults emerges the story of a person who was truly impressive, who accomplished a number of incredible things, and who deserves to be remembered for a lot more than for her wigs and who she happened to sleep with.
Sophia Loren as Cleopatra in TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA (1954)
Ancient Egypt: An Incredibly Brief History
To set the scene and to understand the chaos she was born into, we need to first take a VERY QUICK sojourn into the history of ancient Egypt.
A very, very long time ago, there were a bunch of independent villages and one day, someone unified them into the kingdom of Egypt in around the year 3150 BCE. The famous Pyramids, etc., came around during what’s known as the Old Kingdom, which was the era from approximately 2686–2181 BCE (remember because this is all before the year 0, the numbers get smaller as time passes chronologically). During this time, Egyptians worshipped their King as literally a God on earth. Part of this stemmed from their belief that the King was directly responsible for water level of the Nile, which flooded every year and which helped with their crops. Because of the Nile, Egypt was able to produce amazing crops, which helped feed everyone and set them up to be really good trade partners with other places. Compared to other nearby areas, Egypt was doing amazing, sweetie vis-a-vis crops and the overall development of a sophisticated cultural identity.
And the centuries went by, passing through the Middle Kingdom era (c. 2030 – 1650 BCE), and into the the New Kingdom era (c. 1550 – 1069 BCE). This is when some names you may recognize, such as Hatshepsut, arrive. Although it was uncommon for women to hold solo leadership roles in Egyptian society, they weren’t entirely opposed to the idea, which is how Hatshepsut wound up ruling for about twenty years alongside her husband Thutmose II (because rule was usually shared in man-woman pairs of Kings and Queens). It was during Thutmose II’s reign (after Hatshepsut had died) that the word “Pharaoh” started to be used to refer to their monarch. Other notable names from the New Kingdom era included Queen Nefertiti, her step-son Tutankhamen, and the later King Rameses The Great (who reigned for sixty-seven years).
And more years went by, and Egypt went from being THE wealthiest and most successful and culturally significant kingdom to being slightly less influential. This had a lot to do with the Nile, which dried up from time to time without that annual flooding, crops didn’t grow, which meant Egypt lost a lot of its ability to trade with neighbours. And then, suddenly, it’s the year 332 BCE and famous Greek teenager Alexander The Great stormed in and conquered Egypt (which had, at that point, been under the control of the Persians) (the Egyptian people themselves had been under a series of colonizers for awhile). Alexander created a new capital city named after him, Alexandria, and left the kingdom under the care of his trusted general, Ptolemy.
And for the next three hundred years, Ptolemy’s descendants would rule Egypt as the Ptolemiac dynasty. And although the Ptolemies adopted several cultural practices from the Egyptians, including their deities and the concept of incestuous brother-sister royal marriages, the Egyptian people never forgot that these were conquerors. For their part, the Ptolemies didn’t even go to the effort of learning the Egyptian language* (*which was its own dialect during this time period), conducting all of their business in Greek. So it’s a conquest situation, where the Egyptian people were oppressed and the Ptolemies were oppressors, and bear that in mind for what happens later.
Helen Gardner as the title character in CLEOPATRA (1912)
Also note that the Ptolemies seem to have only had a handful of acceptable names. All of the boys and men were named Ptolemy, and the girls and women were all named either Cleopatra, Arsinoe, or Berenike. And wouldn’t you know it, today’s heroine was one of four sisters: Cleopatra (not our heroine), Berenike, Cleopatra (our heroine), and Arsinoe. And it’s worth looking at the two oldest sisters to get a sense of this family dynamic.
The Royal Ptolemy Sisters
As previously noted, the Ptolemies were intent on inbreeding in order to maintain the purity of their family line, and also probably because they were so busy murdering and scheming against one another that introducing other people would make it all too chaotic. Like, this was a wildly ambitious and competitive family where, when they weren’t marrying uncle to niece or brother to sister, wives were killing husbands and brothers were killing fathers. Just EVERYONE killing EVERYONE all the time to the point that if you weren’t paranoid, you were probably about to be murdered. In order to survive, you had to gather enough supporters around you for protection in order to thrive, you had to kill your siblings before they killed you.
This generation’s father was Pharaoh Ptolemy XII, the illegitimate son of Ptolemy XI. He’d only wound up Pharaoh because all of XI’s other sons had been murdered by each other, because, this cannot be stressed enough: this family was very prone to murdering one another. XII’s wife was named Cleopatra V, and their eldest daughter (not today’s heroine, remember) was named Cleopatra VI. When Cleopatra V died (murdered??), Cleopatra VI swooped in to take over because of the whole “there has to be a man-woman pair of King+Queen at all times” thing. However, Cleopatra VI was very quickly murdered, potentially by the next youngest-sister, Berenike. Like imagine Jo and Amy March but in The Hunger Games, and that’s what these siblings were like.
Theda Bara in the title role of CLEOPATRA (1917)
Upon the death of Cleopatra VI, Ptolemy XII took on his daughter Berenike as the new Queen. And then he went on a business trip out of town, at which point Berenike SEIZED THE THRONE FOR HERSELF. In order to get the traditional King and Queen pairing, you’d think she would marry one of her brothers at this point, but her two younger brothers, both named Ptolemy, were basically preschoolers so that wasn’t what she wanted to do. And so Berenike decided to go this alone as a solo female Queen of Egypt.
This freaked out a lot of people, mostly men, who pressured her to marry someone because having a woman in charge made them very uncomfortable. So after a few months, Berenike decided to marry her cousin, Prince Seleucid. But clearly she changed her mind, because he died after one week, seemingly poisoned BY HER. Berenike was NOT messing around vis-a-vis killing anyone who got in her way, or who annoyed her. She then chose a new husband, Archelaos, but she never allowed him to be co-regent and continued to be basically entirely in charge of Egypt herself. Until Ptolemy XII came back to town, with the full support of Roman forces!!
And so Ptolemy XII took over again and had Berenike executed. And it’s at this point that his third daughter, Cleopatra VII (our heroine), enters the scene, aged fourteen, the new Queen of Egypt.
Cleopatra: The Early Years
Because we’re mostly depending on Roman writings to learn about Cleopatra, she’s first mentioned when she begins having dealings with powerful Roman men. So we don’t know much about her early years specifically, but based on how she turned out and what’s known about Egyptian society at the time, we can assume several things. She was clearly extremely well educated in every subject known at the time, including math, politics, history, philosophy, reading, and writing. She was fluent in as many as nine languages, including Egyptian, because for a welcome change she figured she’d give a shit about the language of her literal subjects.
Claudette Colbert in the title role of CLEOPATRA (1934)
(Conspiracy corner: there may have been another reason for her to learn the Egyptian language, and that’s that she was potentially at least part Egyptian. Now, the Ptolemies had been intermarrying among their Greek family for three hundred years but genetically, there’s no way any of them would have children after that long without introducing any foreign DNA. Cleopatra’s father, remember, was an illegitimate child. Surely earlier in the family tree, other nationalities had been introduced as well. And although XII had been married to a woman named Cleopatra V, it’s unclear if that woman was our Cleopatra’s mother. In fact, nobody knows who her mother was. As such, it’s possible that she was half-Egyptian.)
It is almost certain that Cleopatra was probably not conventionally beautiful. This point is extremely important so let’s just repeat that: Cleopatra was probably not conventionally beautiful. From the coins that have been found from her lifetime, she’s presented as certainly impressive, but is not styled to resemble the beautiful faces of statues from that era. Considering the amount of influence and power she would later amass, it’s somehow easier to assume she must have been gorgeous because that could explain why people agreed to work with her. But isn’t it more interesting to know that she may not have been beautiful, and that it was her magnetism, charisma, intelligence, and wit that won people over to her side.
She also clearly learned from the death of her two older sisters that a) her immediate family was not at all trustworthy and b) if she was going to stage a coup, she had to make sure she had powerful allies on her side. And so she waited for her chance.
Elizabeth Taylor in the title role of CLEOPATRA (1963)
And surprise! When she was around eighteen years old, having been Queen and successfully not having been murdered for four years, her father died. As per his will, Cleopatra was married to her younger brother, who became her co-ruler Pharoah Ptolemy XIII. Can you blame Cleopatra, this extremely smart and capable person, for deciding she’d rather not job-share with her tweenage brother-husband? She set to work straightaway cutting him out of most of the job duties, including having his name removed from official documents, and minting new coins that showed only her face instead of both of them. These were MAJOR declarations of war and Ptolemy XIII’s advisors and regents (because Ptolemy himself was still a kid) got extremely pissed off about all of this. Not only had she snuck around everyone’s back to claim extra power, she’d upended the expectation that Queens should be subordinate to and supportive of Kings: a woman wasn’t expected to rule on her own, that was SHOCKING to them.
And so, although she had her own supporters, her brother had more supporters and they exiled her from Alexandria. Cleopatra was like, “Screw you, I didn’t want to be here anyway!” and grabbed her younger sister Arsinoe (yes! Another sister! Don’t worry, she’s going to be amazing also) and took off to Syria, probably scheming all the way because she was obviously not going to accept this turn of events. And her plan involved taking advantage of the currently ongoing Roman civil war to get the back-up she needed to defeat her brother-husband.
Ancient Rome: An Incredible Brief History
There’s no time to get into the very long and complicated history of ancient Rome, so we’ll cut right to the point right now which is that Roman men hated a) women and b) the entire idea of hereditary monarchy. Cleopatra, as a woman and a Queen, was basically their worst nightmare. Women in ancient Roman society were considered property/children for their whole lives, and had no rights at all. In fact, their medical and philosophical understanding of the concept of sex was that women were mutated, incomplete men who hadn’t fully turned into men in the womb. Like, basically women had slightly less rights than barnyard chickens. It was a BAD SCENE.
Also, since 509 BCE Rome had been ruled by a non-King-based system where sometimes two and sometimes three consuls ruled at the same time, for no more than five years per person to ensure no one person would ever become too powerful. Not just anybody could become a consul, you had to be descended from one of the oldest noble families in Rome (which is not entirely unlike a hereditary monarchy, but don’t tell them that). The point is that there was more than one person in charge. That didn’t stop a number of civil wars from breaking out, though.
Twenty years before Cleopatra was born, there was yet another Roman civil war. In this one, a man named Sulla took over as sort of emergency Emperor because the multiple-consuls model wasn’t working very well in a time of great crisis. Having seen this in action, younger men like Julius Caesar and Pompey decided they’d each like to have that sort of power, themselves. As they didn’t want to share, Caesar and Pompey began fighting against each other and just kept on fighting and suddenly it’s 48 BCE and we’re caught up to where Cleopatra was (on the run with her sister, at war against her brother-husband).
Pompey wound up fleeing to Egypt, where he thought he could find refuge for awhile but SURPRISE he was stabbed to death basically upon arrival because that’s just how fast things happened when Ptolemies were around. And, although Caesar had been at war with Pompey, he wasn’t a fan of this assassination, and ordered Cleopatra and her brother-husband to reconcile and get out of his way, basically. Cleopatra had no intention of doing so, and so she headed off to try and convince Caesar to join her side against her brother-husband. (Note: this is where, if the people of Egypt had been bigger fans of the Ptolemies, they may have stepped up to offer her assistance. That they didn’t is maybe one small clue to the fact that they viewed both her and her brother-husband as their oppressor, not as their legitimate rulers).
Anyway, this is the bit where, in legends based on some very dramatic writings, she may have hidden herself in a rolled-up carpet to sneak into Caesar’s room to SEDUCE HIM. That may or may not have happened. But for sure she snuck off without telling her brother-husband, and whatever she said to Caesar totally worked: he was now willing to ally with her against Ptolemy XIII. And a power couple emerged!
Cleopatra: The Caesar Years
This is where Cleopatra being very beautiful and very sexy would be an easy way to explain how she so quickly won Caesar over to her side. But remember: Cleopatra was not conventionally beautiful. And, having been married to her tweenage brother for the past several years, was likely not very sexually experienced (in fact, let’s just state for the record now, the only men we know she ever slept with were Julius Caesar and Mark Antony). What she was, was extraordinarily well educated, in possession of almost supernatural amounts of personal charm and charisma, and was unlike any woman Julius Caesar had ever encountered before. Because, not only was she assertive, extremely well educated and overflowing with charisma, she was self-assured and likely the sort of spoiled one becomes when one spends ones formative years being told you’re literally a Goddess and you’re made Queen at age fourteen.
Did she go to Caesar willing to seduce him? And if she did, was it to manipulate him with her sexy ways, or was it because this was the Ancient world, and often alliances were sealed with marriages and/or babies? What’s mostly definite here is that she knew without the support of Egyptian forces, and with most of the palace supporting her brother-husband, she needed to find an outside source of support for her claim to the throne. And if that meant sleeping with the enemy, she was all in. Again, remember what her family and entire childhood and teen years had been like: she knew that to succeed, you had to do WHATEVER it took, and having a baby was nothing compared to murdering a family member. So she went full Ptolemy and won Caesar over to her side.
But then, twist!! Because Cleopatra’s younger sister Arsinoe was just as badass as her three older sisters, and she also knew that you have to shoot your shot when you get the chance. Just fifteen years old, Arsinoe decided to try and take over Egypt herself with their other brother, also named Ptolemy, as her co-regent. These Ptolemy sisters, honestly!! It’s just like Little Women, but in ancient Egypt and with brother-sister marriage and murder. Honestly, this move has Big Amy March Energy and I’m very into it.
A Brief Note on Arsinoe IV
As anyone who has read Little Women and/or Pride and Prejudice knows: one should never underestimate a younger sister. Arsinoe had spent time on the run with Cleopatra, and knew firsthand just how badass a young women could be. She was like, “So what if I’m just fifteen years old? I am fully prepared to DEFEAT JULIUS CAESAR!! Let’s do this!!”
Leonor Varela in the title role of CLEOPATRA (1999)
Here’s what went down. Arsinoe fled down with her mentor/eunuch/pal, Ganymedes, and declared herself Queen Arsinoe IV and took control over the Egyptian army. She also named Ganymedes as her second in commend. She commanded the Egyptian army in battle against the Romans, utilizing clever tactics like closing off some streets in order to trap Caesar and Cleopatra in the palace, where they were trapped for basically an entire year. Ultimately, Caesar recognized he was about to be defeated by one of history’s coolest teenagers, and so he took off his identifiable cloak and armour and swam away. During this time period, Ptolemy XIII drowned to death, and Ganymedes died in battle.
The Egyptian army then decided they weren’t big fans of Queen Arsinoe anymore, and so they decided to exchange Arsinoe for Ptolemy XIV (her brother-husband, who at this point was being held captive by the Romans because everything is chaos). And so, Arsinoe wound up a Roman prisoner. She was forced to be included in Caesar’s victory parade, humiliating herself in front of everyone as a captive Queen, and then was sent into exile. Pour one out for Arsinoe, teen Queen of Egypt: she was a real one.
Cleopatra: The Caesar Years, Continued
So by now, it’s the year 48 BCE and Julius Caesar’s term as consul was due to expire. He managed to get one extra year as Emergency Dictator, because who else but him would be able to settle the dynastic troubles in Egypt? And so he appointed Cleopatra co-ruler alongside her other, even younger brother, Ptolemy XIV. Did she have to sibling marry him? Yes, because that’s just how these things were done. She was 22 and pregnant with Julius Caesar’s baby, and in order to rule Egypt had to marry her 12-year-old brother. Sometimes, that’s just how things go. But re: her love life, Cleopatra continued to live with Caesar as long as he was in town. Also FYI: Caesar was also already married to someone else, a Roman woman named Calpurnia.
Lyndsey Marshall as Cleopatra in ROME (2005)
Julius was out of town when Cleopatra’s son was born on June 23, 47 BCE. She named him Caesarion, which means basically Caesar Jr., and told everyone that Julius Caesar was his father. Caesar, though, never officially acknowledged Caesarian as his son for various reasons, mostly because he was married to someone else and Cleopatra was married to someone else and this was all kind of messy but they both loved drama so you know they were living for it.
Cleopatra and her new boy brother-husband went to hang out in Rome, leaving baby Caesarion behind. They moved into a villa just across from where Caesar lived with his wife, which sounds kind of awkward, and which Caesar’s advisors also found kind of odd. But Caesar had always done his own thing, never mind what other people think* (*this is part of why he winds up murdered in the next paragraph). For instance, Caesar was busy overseeing the construction of a new temple to the goddess Venus, which included a huge gold status of the goddess herself. And he was like, “Sculptors! I need you to make a second statue, also in gold, of my lover, Cleopatra!” And they did, and put that statue up next to the one of Venus, and that statue stayed there for like two hundred more years because it was apparently just that gorgeous a piece of art.
But then came the Ides of March, which is when Caesar was stabbed to death by a bunch of his former friends who were mad about his whole “doing what I want, don’t care what you think, I’m dictator for life” routine. Cleopatra was like, “Great, so my son with Caesar, Caesarion, will become the next Emperor, right?” And the Romans were like, “Actually, we all hate you, and also Caesar named his adopted son Octavian as his heir so…” and so Cleopatra packed up her things and peaced out of Rome, headed back to Egypt to regroup. Knowing what we know about Cleopatra, it’s unclear if she was unprepared for this contingency. She likely had sussed out who was who in Rome, who hated who, and which dude would be her best option to get what she wanted.
While en route back to Egypt, Cleopatra’s brother-husband Ptolemy XIV died of either some sort of illness, this is not suspicious at all except for the part where it’s suspicious as fuck so I think it’s pretty apparent she probably poisoned him. Because guess what, with him out of the way and no more little brothers waiting in the wings, her only choice for her co-regent was her son, three-year-old Caesarion! Would you look at that, she was now for all intents and purposes the solo queen of Egypt. And yet, without the support of the people of Egypt, she knew she’d need another assist from Rome if she was going to stay in power.
It is a fact universally acknowledged that if a woman can get on without a man, she will do so. So the fact that Cleopatra moved onto her Plan B indicates that she knew in her politically-savvy, resilient, survivor’s mind of hers that the odds were too great for her to tackle this next stage of her Queenship on her own.
Which is why she turned to Mark Antony.
Anna Valle as Cleopatra in IMPERIUM: AUGUSTUS (2003)
Cleopatra: The Mark Antony Years
Given that Julius Caesar had been assassinated partly for wanting to begin a dynastic monarchy in Rome, it makes sense that the leaders there were reluctant to declare his nephew Octavian the new Emperor. Instead, they set up a Triumvirate of three leaders: Octavian, Caesar’s former right-hand man Mark Antony, and a third guy who mostly doesn’t matter or do anything, named Lepidus. These three men, as you might imagine, weren’t eager to share this power with each other and the in-fighting and power plays began almost right away. By 42 BCE, Octavian was controlling most of the Western part of the Roman Empire, and Antony was controlling most of the Eastern part (Lepidus didn’t really do anything but be the third point in the triumvirate’s triangle), and it seemed obvious that either Octavian or Antony was going to kill the other.
A note on Mark Antony: please note that Mark Antony was a piece of man candy of the first degree. In writings by people who knew him, he was described as basically gorgeous, with “mighty thighs” and a perfect face and curly hair and just a total dreamboat. All the stuff you think these Roman dudes would have written about Cleopatra re: gorgeousness, they actually wrote about Mark Antony. He was not just gorgeous, he was also one of the most successful and brilliant military generals ever, everyone adored him, he was a major heartthrob and hero to everyone in Rome*.
* This was an issue for Octavian, who was working very hard to make everyone in Rome hate Antony. Octavian was a skinny and sickly teen with blond hair (Romans preferred dark hair) who had nowhere near as many impressive military victories as Mark Antony. How could Octavian win everyone over to his side against this Roman Star Quarterback with the mighty thighs. STAY TUNED.
So anyway, famous dreamboat Mark Antony was in need of some funding to help pay for these continued battles against sickly teen Octavian, and figured he’d ask for an assist from the wildly wealthy Egypt who he remembered had helped out his pal Julius Caesar once or twice before. He sent out an invitation for Cleopatra to come by and chat with him about this and she was like, No thanks, am busy washing my hair, etc. Several refused invitations later, she finally agreed to come and meet him and then the most Rihanna BDE situation you could ever possibly IMAGINE WENT DOWN. GET READY.
So, purple was the most expensive and rarest dye in this place and time, because it was made from the slime of thousands of sea snails which meant it took forever to make the dye let alone to dye SAILS let alone to dye ALL OF THE SAILS ON A SHIP. But guess who had a ship with all purple sails? Cleopatra. And her ship didn’t have regular oars, she was using SILVER OARS that just cut through the water like gigantic KNIVES, glinting in the Mediterranean sunshine.
So just imagine Antony, hanging out waiting for this meeting, to be met by this incredible display of wealth just cruising up next to him. When the ship got closer, he’d have seen Cleopatra making THE GREATEST ENTRANCE IN WORLD HISTORY. She was dressed up like the goddess Isis, covered in jewels, and surrounded by incense so you could literally SMELL the decadence. On top of that, she had little children dressed like CUPIDS running around her with little BOWS AND ARROWS to fully paint the picture which was: My name is Cleopatra, and I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly. And then. Rather than pulling up her ship next to him to meet with him, Cleopatra’s BOAT OF LUXURY just kept on sailing past, leaving Mark Antony like, “WTF just happened and also? I think I’m in love.”
Because Cleopatra did not come when you invite her she summons you to her and that’s just how it goes. Antony headed over to greet her on her ship, where she was like, “Sit, enjoy some wine and music and jewels and opulence for two days while we chat,” and he was like, “HEART EYES EMOJI” and two days later, a deal was struck where she’d help support him in his battle against Octavian, and he would worship and adore her for the rest of his life. And: can you blame him.
During this luxury yacht sex summit, Cleopatra got Antony to agree to have Arsinoe (who was still alive! In exile, back in Rome) put to death because that was a loose end, and Cleopatra didn’t like loose ends. Antony was like, “Anything you want, babe” and arranged for Arsinoe to be murdered on the front steps of the temple where she’d been living. Now note, killing someone on the steps on a temple was not the usual Roman way, and in fact this action upset a lot of people quite a lot, and is the first hint that Antony maybe wasn’t the best at winning over the Roman people to his side. But he was so good-looking, he was able to get away with a lot. FOR NOW.
Elizabeth Taylor in the title role of CLEOPATRA (1963)
Now, while the whole Cleopatra and Julius Caesar relationship was clearly sexual in the sense of she got pregnant with his child, those two never had the PALPABLE SEXUAL CHEMISTRY of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. She was ruthless, brilliant, and unstoppable and he had mighty thighs and and insatiable appetite for LIFE and the two of them together just make all the sense in the world. Also, she’d gone from marriage to her tweenage brother to an affair with a very intense but not very fun fifty-year-old man, and she deserved to have some fun with Rome’s Sexiest Man Alive*.
* He was not, however, Rome’s Most Eligible Bachelor as he was already married to a woman named Fulvia.
And once these two paired up, it was like LOOK OUT, THE ANCIENT WORLD! Mark Antony had already been known for throwing the most amazing parties, and Cleopatra was known for being amazing at everything, and they were both young and having fun. They started a social organization called the Inimitable Livers which was basically a party/drinking club, spent literally days in bed together, and were just doing The Most. Bear in mind, they were also both still being successful leaders, and Antony was happy to use his power as part of the Triumvirate to help Cleopatra out by restoring some of the her family’s former lands back to her.
Think about how Cleopatra’s entire young life had been spent being constantly almost murdered by one of her siblings after she made her first big power move, she wound up exiled from Egypt, and only fought her way back with the help of Julius Caesar. She’d lived a paranoid, cautious, dangerous and stressful life and FINALLY now as Queen on her own terms, she could let loose and enjoy herself. This relationship brought out both wonderful things in each other (shared ambitions and goals) as well as, perhaps, some of their shared toxic qualities (overindulging in a way that Octavian was able to easily use against them). And it’s here that Cleopatra may have made the substantial error of underestimate Octavian, who was becoming more powerful and influential and still had it out for Antony.
In around the year 40 BCE, Cleopatra gave birth to boy-girl twins named Cleopatra (of course) and Alexander (after Antony’s ancestor, Alexander the Great). Unlike Caesar, Antony acknowledged both as his children even though, like Caesar, he was already married to someone else. But shortly after the twins’ birth, Antony’s wife Fulvia died (probably not poisoned, because this is the sort of story where you have to note that sort of thing). This death brought out a brief period of detente between Antony and Octavian. In the whole “it’s the ancient world, so we solidify alliances with marriages” style, this peace was confirmed by Antony agreeing to take as his next wife Octavian’s sister, Octavia the Younger. #AWKWARD
Meanwhile, Cleopatra was busy raising three small children and had to contend with a new rival, the Judean King Herod (the one from the Bible, who demanded that all the babies be killed in case one of them was Jesus not a cool guy, even if he accidentally sort of invented Christmas). The thing is that Egypt and Judea were both kingdoms allied with Rome who were geographically nearby to each other, and Cleopatra sided with Herod’s mother-in-law against him and they made a sort of Girl Gang, and I could never tell this story any better than Anne Thériault did in this Longreads article so maybe pop over there and come back here when you’re done.
You’re back? Great! BUCKLE UP.
Lyndsey Marshall as Cleopatra on ROME (2005)
In around 37 BCE, Cleopatra went to visit Antony, which is when he met their three-year-old twins for the first time and he was like, “Look how cute they are! I love them!” because, unlike Caesar, Antony was happy about having children with Cleopatra and because the twins were probably super cute and Cleopatra probably dressed them in adorable costumes. One year later, Cleopatra gave birth to another child, a son named Ptolemy (because you know she had to throw that name in there somewhere) Philadelphus. But just as her reproductive abilities were going strong, Mark Antony’s military prowess was starting to become less amazing and his psychological state was becoming more paranoid. And, despite Cleopatra’s continued financial support, the Antony vs Octavian battles kept going on, complicated by the fact that Antony was married to Octavian’s sister, who he was constantly abandoning to hang out with Cleopatra. Even Lepidus (remember him? The third part of the Triumvirate?) got involved, rebelling against Octavian and winding up under house arrest. Nice try, Lepidus, but everyone knows you’re the least interesting part of this whole story.
It all sort of came to a head when Cleopatra and Antony staged a huge festival-party called The Donations of Alexandria. They threw this event partly because they both had always loved parties, partly because Cleopatra was really good at spectacles, and partly to try and convince everyone that Antony’s campaigns in Parthia and Armenia had gone amazingly well (the one in Parthia had not gone well, but the one in Armenia had, and he wanted to emphasize the latter). The party was planned to be similar to a Roman triumph, and included a bit where Antony’s prisoner of war, the Armenian leader Artavasdes, was walked in front of everyone in humiliation (as had been done with Arsinoe years before). The Armenian royal family was brought before Cleopatra and told to kneel, but they did not, and she freaked out, and that’s maybe a sign that things weren’t actually going as well as Cleopatra and Antony were pretending they were.
Anway, for the grand finale, Antony dressed up in a costume blending the Roman god of wine Dionysus with the Egyptian god of the underworld, Osiris, and Cleopatra dressed as a mixture of the Roman god of love Aphrodite and the Egyptian goddess of life and magic. Her son Caesarion was dressed up as the god Horus, who is the son of Isis. And then everyone in Cleopatra’s family got a new name and/or title:
- Cleopatra was proclaimed Queen of Kings, Queen of Egypt (co-regent with Caesarion), as well as Queen of Cyprus, Libya, and central Syria
- Alexander was given the middle name Helios (which means “the sun”), and named King of Armenia, Media, and Parthia
- Cleopatra (not our heroine, her daughter) was given the middle name Selene (which means “the moon”) and named Queen of Cyrenaica and Libya
- Ptolemy Philadelphus was named King of Syria and Cicilia
- Caesarion was proclaimed King of Kings as well as the legitimate heir of Julius Caesar
It is also speculated that Cleopatra and Antony were officially married during this event, and certainly they began acting like he wasn’t married to anyone else (although he wouldn’t divorce Octavia the Younger for awhile yet). The whole thing was loud, in your face, over the top, and totally on brand for Cleopatra+Antony. But to the people of Rome, it was all tacky and tasteless and made them all dislike both Antony and Cleopatra even more because this whole time, Octavian had latched onto the idea that he could win the PR battle by making himself seem pious and respectable vs Antony’s famously decadent lifestyle.
And if you’re wondering how a PR campaign is run in ancient Rome, in a time before the invention of the printing press, the answer is: hand-calligraphed flyers!! It’s from this time of PR wars that a lot of the mean rumours and popular misconceptions about Cleopatra first came into existence. All the greatest hits started out from this era: “She’s sexy and manipulating men with her beauty!” “She’s using witchcraft to bend Mark Antony to her will!” “She seduced Caesar and then Antony because she wants to destroy Rome!” “She’s too powerful and smart, it’s unnatural for a woman!” “Mark Antony does whatever she says, which is gross, because women aren’t people and men should be in charge!!” etc.
(So the next time you’re around someone who says something like this about Cleopatra, you can be like, “Oh, how original, where’d you get that idea, one of Octavian’s flyers from the year 31 BCE?” Because the idea that strong women are DANGEROUS SCHEMERS whose feminine wiles can trick POPULAR YOUNG PRINCES INTO MOVING TO CANADA AGAINST THEIR WILL is literally a story as old as time. Time for a new narrative, misogynists!!)
Honestly, Cleopatra’s connection with Antony was fucking up her life a lot more than it was his. When they’d started their relationship, he was the Roman Heartthrob/Hero who seemed destined to become the next Emperor. But as time went on, his hard-drinking/partying lifestyle caught up with him, as did probably a lifetime of PTSD from his years of military service, and he seems to have started breaking down psychologically. Their whole deal was based on him being an amazing military leader and her bankrolling him, but with him losing battles (and Octavian’s forces getting stronger all the time), he was starting to look like a poor investment on Cleopatra’s part. But bear in mind, she’d been running Egypt like a literal boss this whole time too, with forward thinking decisions about taxes and budgeting, and doing her best to lead a country that was entirely dependent on whether the Nile flooded or not every year which is a CHALLENGING JOB TO DO.
And THEN!! So, Octavian was re-elected as a consul but Antony’s time had ended, making him now just a regular Roman citizen. As such, the fact that he continued to battle against Octavian with Cleopatra’s funding, became sort of illegal. And so in a totally genius but also terrible act of using a loophole, Octavian had Rome declare war on Cleopatra for providing military support to a Roman citizen. So now the war was not Octavian vs Antony, but All Of Rome vs Antony, leaving Cleopatra in yet another awkward situation. But she of course was here to support her man, so off she went in her purple-sailed ship to help out.
Ellie Goffe as the title character in CLEOPATRA: MOTHER, MISTRESS, MURDERER, QUEEN (2016)
This war was waged mostly at sea, where Cleopatra and Antony initially seemed to have the advantage as they had more ships. However, Octavian’s smaller fleet was comprised of professionally-trained Roman soldiers who were better equipped to battle than were their mercenary forces. It all came down to the Battle of Actium, which began on September 2, 31 BCE. The battle ended with a massive number of defections of Cleopatra and Antony’s troops to Octavian, and with Cleopatra and Antony themselves fleeing the scene. Cleopatra headed back to Egypt, where again, her family’s history of oppression was likely part of the reason that the Egyptian people weren’t prepared to stand up for her and fight Octavian. They’d do their job and be her royal guards, etc., but don’t seem prepared to lay down their lives and fight for her as they may have done for a non-Greek monarch.
Cleopatra, now trapped in Egypt and capture by Octavian seeming an inevitability, began to figure out a new scheme. Octavian seemed intent on keeping her alive so that he could parade her through the streets in a triumph as had been done to her sister Arsinoe years before. Cleopatra, proud as she was, was determined not to give him the satisfaction of humiliating her. She also knew that he was intent on looting her treasure for his own coffers, so she sent word to him that she was prepared to light herself and all of her treasure on fire. This got his attention, and Octavian sent a representative out to negotiate with her.
These negotiations did not go well, obviously, because Cleopatra and Octavian were equally stubborn and strong-willed, and so Octavian decided to invade Egypt. Antony was taken prisoner as he attempted to protect her, and he died by suicide while in captivity. He was 53 years old. Octavian permitted Cleopatra to attend Antony’s funeral, where she participated in the mourning rituals of the time and place: screaming non-stop and beating and clawing at her skin. As a result of this, she wound up with septic wounds. She stopped eating, perhaps hoping to die in this manner rather than by execution or after having had to parade through town as a prisoner of war. Octavian was not going to let his prized prisoner get away so easily, though, and she wound up recovering from these wounds.
Cleopatra died, aged 39, sometime that same month. Two of her loyal maidservants, Eiras and Charmion, died with her. Her manner of death was most likely poison, although the rumours of a poison snakebite are likely false. After all, Cleopatra had always been smart and organized, and she’d never leave something like this to chance. She had a small window of opportunity to kill herself why risk it on a snake who may or may not bite her in the right time? Allegedly, the poison was smuggled in a basket of figs, which would also be a terrible way to sneak a venomous snake in to someone. She likely ate poisoned food or applied a poisoned ointment, as did her maidservants.
Conspiracy corner: If you look at ancient Roman history and mythology, women dying by suicide is a weirdly common theme of women being sort of quiet and not wanting to be a bother, which was how Romans wanted their women to behave, and which was certainly not how Cleopatra ever would have behaved. The news of her suicide came out from Octavian, and was written about by other men who hated her and who were writing to please Octavian, so it’s possible that was a cover-up story for something else. Perhaps Octavian actually killed her. Perhaps she tried to rally up supporters and stage a big coup and escape prison, but it failed and she died in the battle. In a story this wild, with a woman as prepared to do whatever it takes, anything is possible.
Whatever the manner of her death, Cleopatra almost certainly died on her own terms, and Octavian was super frustrated, so if she had to go at least her death was a final fuck you.
Cleopatra: Her Legacy
Cleopatra’s son Caesarion, renamed Ptolemy XV, reigned for just eighteen days before he was tricked to come visit Octavian, who murdered him. Upon his death, the Ptolemiac dynasty came to an end and Egypt was absorbed as a province of the newly-created Roman Empire.
Cleopatra Selene married King Juba II of Numibia and Mauretania, with whom she had one daughter and one son. Her son, Ptolemy (what else would she have named him) was later murdered by his cousin, CALIGULA!! (A story for another day). Three hundred years later, Syria’s Queen Zenobia, who faced off against the Roman Empire in her own badass story, claimed to be a descendant of Cleopatra Selene.
The fates of Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philodelphus are unknown, though they seem to have been sent to Rome to be raised by Antony’s widow, Octavia the Younger, following the death of their parents.
Octavian renamed himself Augustus, and became the first official non-emergency Roman Emperor. He re-named the month of August after himself, to celebrate his defeat of Cleopatra, which is just such a dickish move I hate him and now I kind of hate the month of August out of loyalty to Cleopatra. This fucking guy. Ugh.
Much of the legend of Cleopatra developed based on the Roman writings from around the time of her downfall, which describe her as a witch/ slut/ seductress/ femme fatale who single-handedly destroyed Mark Antony’s life. These are the most widely known sources of information about her life, however, other sources focus more on other aspects of her political career and persona.
Some medieval Arabic writings seem to have been drawn from Greek histories that may present Cleopatra similarly to how she’d portrayed herself. These sources do not refer at all to her beauty (or lack thereof) or even to her love affairs. Instead, she is depicted as a scholar known as “Cleopatra the Wise” or “The Virtuous Scholar” a woman revered for her intelligence and inventiveness, with keen interests in philosophy, alchemy, mathematics, and medicine.
References & Further Reading
The primary source I used to write this essay was Stacy Schiff’s excellent biography, Cleopatra: A Life. I also referred to Kara Cooney’s book When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt as well as getting background info on ancient Rome from Emma Southon’s Agrippina: The Most Extraordinary Woman of the Roman World.
Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration
The next eleven years saw the rule of the Commonwealth (1649-60). Ostensibly Parliament was in control, but the real power lay with Cromwell and the army. It was just as well that the army was still standing, for Charles' son landed in Scotland, had himself declared Charles II, and invaded England. He was defeated by Cromwell at Worcester (1650) and forced to hide in a tree to avoid capture, before successfully fleeing to France.
Eventually the conflict between Cromwell and Parliament came to a head with Cromwell establishing the Protectorate (1653-58). This was essentially a monarchy by another name, with Cromwell at its head. His rule was a time of rigid social and religious laws on radical Protestant lines.
Cromwell's government divided the country into 11 districts, each under a major general, who were responsible not only for tax collection and justice, but for guarding public morality as well. Church attendance was compulsory. Horse racing and cockfights were banned, plays were prohibited, gambling dens and brothels were closed, as were many alehouses. Drunkenness and blasphemy were harshly dealt with. People being people, these measures were extremely unpopular.
Cromwell had a bodyguard of 160 men during the Protectorate. In the end, he was just as dictatorial and autocratic as Charles and James had been. He called Parliament when he needed money and dismissed it when it argued. On Cromwell's death his son, Richard, tried to carry on as Lord Protector (1658-59), but he was not the forceful character that his father had been.
The results of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate confirmed in the English a hatred of military rule and the severe Puritanism associated with it. From this point on Parliament opposed Puritanism vigorously.
In 1660 Parliament offered to restore the monarchy if Charles would agree to concessions for religious toleration and a general amnesty. Charles was not as hard-headed as his father, and he agreed to the proposals. He returned to London on a wave of popular support to be crowned Charles II (1660-85).
Charles' closest five advisors had initials which formed the word "Cabal", which came to mean a secret association because they were suspected to be the real power behind the throne.
The Restoration was notable for a relaxation of the strict Puritan morality of the previous decades. Theatre, sports, and dancing were revived. Charles' court was notable for its revelry and licentiousness.
While Charles was enjoying his new court, he was less than successful internationally.
The English fought a losing naval war with the Dutch, and England's presence on the high seas had never been so low.
Plague and Fire
Things on dry land weren't all that much better. In 1665 the Great Plague hit London, decimating the population.The following year the Great Fire burned 450 acres and left large parts of the capital in ruins. The fire is said to have started in a bakehouse at the bottom of Pudding Lane. Today, the height of Christopher Wren's London Monument in King William Street is the distance from that point to the site of the bakehouse. The best description of this period of English history comes from the meticulous diaries of Samuel Pepys, a high official in the naval office.
Wren and the Building of St. Paul's
One of the positive consequences of the London Fire was that Old St. Paul's Cathedral, which had been badly in need of renovation, was damaged beyond repair. Within days of the fire, architect Christopher Wren presented the king with a plan for a new cathedral. With some alterations this became the magnificent church that stands today (click here for St. Paul's Cathedral). Wren was master of works for the construction of the cathedral for the rest of his life, in addition to being responsible for scores of other churches and the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.
Changes in Government
Under Charles II there was a general move towards a cabinet style of government. Groups formed which were the fore-runners of the later Tories (the court party, supporting royal prerogative), and the Whigs (the country party, supporting Parliamentary rights in moderation). The name "Whigs" came from the Whiggamores, Scottish rebels against the king, while the "Tories" were named after Catholic royalist rebels in Ireland.
The Popish Plot
In 1678 an unsavoury character named Titus Oates alleged a Catholic plot to murder Charles and establish Catholicism. In the wake of the so-called Popish Plot Catholics were excluded from Parliament, some were arrested, and some were killed. This was only one of a series of real or alleged Catholic plots against the king.
On the judicial front, the Habeus Corpus Act (1679) made justice officials responsible for the welfare of prisoners in their care, provided for a speedy trial, and ensured that a person could not be tried twice for the same crime.
Social conditions during the 17th century were abysmal. Laws were harsh, and religious non-conformists and Catholics faced heavy discrimination. On the other hand, things were so much better in England than elsewhere in Europe that England was an example of model government to such continental commentators as Voltaire and Montesquieu. Perspective is everything.
Several Europeans monarchies, notably Austria, Prussia, and Great Britain, engaged in military conflicts with revolutionary France to take advantage of the political chaos and stop the spread of the revolutionary, anti-royal spirit across the globe.
State the reasons why other European states got involved in France’s political turmoil
- During the French Revolution, European monarchs watched the developments in France and considered whether they should intervene in support of Louis XVI or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, brother to the French Queen Marie Antoinette, initially looked on the Revolution calmly, but he and other European monarchs soon feared that the revolutionary spirit might expand across the continent and in colonies.
- In August 1791, Leopold and King Frederick William II of Prussia, in consultation with emigrant French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe in the well-being of Louis and his family and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them.
- Many in France wanted to wage war, including the King, many of the Feuillants, and the Girondins, although for very different reasons. The forces opposing war were much weaker. The Austrian emperor Leopold II, brother of Marie Antoinette, wished to avoid war but died in March 1792. France preemptively declared war on Austria (April 20, 1792) and Prussia joined on the Austrian side a few weeks later.
- What followed was a series of sweeping military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802 that would become known as the French Revolutionary Wars. They pitted the French First Republic against several monarchies, most notably Britain and Austria, and are divided in two periods: the War of the First Coalition (1792–1797) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802).
- In July 1792, Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, commander of the mostly Prussian army, issued a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifestol Written by the French king’s cousin, Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, the leader of an émigré corps within the Allied army, it declared the Allies’ intent to restore the king to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial law.
- The Revolutionary Wars ended with great success for France and revealed the talent of a new military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte. After a decade of constant warfare and aggressive diplomacy, France had succeeded in seizing and conquering a wide array of territories, from the Italian Peninsula and the Low Countries in Europe to the Louisiana Territory in North America. French success in these conflicts ensured the spread of revolutionary principles over much of Europe.
- War of the Second Coalition: A 1798–1802 conflict that was the second war on revolutionary France by the European monarchies, led by Britain, Austria, and Russia and including the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, and Naples. Their goal was to contain the spread of chaos from France, but they failed to overthrow the revolutionary regime and French territorial gains since 1793 were confirmed.
- War of the First Coalition: A 1792–1797 military conflict that was the first attempt by the European monarchies to defeat the French First Republic. France declared war on the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria on April 20, 1792, and the Kingdom of Prussia joined the Austrian side a few weeks later. The two monarchies were joined by Great Britain and several smaller European states.
- French Revolutionary Wars: A series of sweeping military conflicts from 1792 until 1802, resulting from the French Revolution. They pitted the French First Republic against Britain, Austria, and several other monarchies. They are divided in two periods: the War of the First Coalition (1792–1797) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802). Initially confined to Europe, the fighting gradually assumed a global dimension as the political ambitions of the Revolution expanded.
- Jacobins: Members of a revolutionary political movement that was the most famous political club during the French Revolution, distinguished by its left wing, revolutionary politics. Unlike other sects like the Girondins, they were closely allied to the sans-culottes, a popular force of working-class Parisians that played a pivotal role in the development of the revolution. They had a significant presence in the National Convention and were dubbed ‘the Mountain’ for their seats in the uppermost part of the chamber.
- Brunswick Manifesto: A proclamation issued by Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, commander of the Allied Army (principally Austrian and Prussian), on July 25, 1792, to the population of Paris, France during the War of the First Coalition. It threatened that if the French royal family were harmed, then French civilians would be harmed. It was a measure intended to intimidate Paris, but instead, it helped further spur the increasingly radical French Revolution.
- Declaration of Pillnitz: A statement issued on August 27, 1791, at Pillnitz Castle near Dresden (Saxony) by Frederick William II of Prussia and the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, Marie Antoinette’s brother. It declared the joint support of the Holy Roman Empire and of Prussia for King Louis XVI of France against the French Revolution.
- Feuillants: A political group that emerged during the French Revolution and consisted of monarchists and reactionaries who sat on the right of the Legislative Assembly of 1791. It came into existence when the left-wing Jacobins split between moderates, who sought to preserve the position of the king and supported the proposed plan of the National Assembly for a constitutional monarchy, and radicals (Jacobins), who pressed for a continuation of direct democratic action to overthrow Louis XVI.
- Girondins: A political group operating in France from 1791 to 1795 during the French Revolution, active within the Legislative Assembly and the National Convention. They emerged from the Jacobin movement and campaigned for the end of the monarchy, but then resisted the spiraling momentum of the Revolution. They came into conflict with The Mountain (Montagnards), a radical faction within the Jacobin Club.
The Fear of Revolution Among European Monarchs
During the French Revolution, European monarchs watched the developments in France and considered whether they should intervene in support of Louis XVI or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, brother to the French Queen Marie Antoinette, initially looked on the Revolution calmly. He became disturbed as the Revolution became more radical, although he still hoped to avoid war. In August 1791, Leopold and King Frederick William II of Prussia, in consultation with emigrant French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe in the well-being of Louis and his family and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them. Although Leopold saw the Pillnitz Declaration as a way of taking action that would enable him to avoid actually doing anything about France for the moment, Paris saw the Declaration as a serious threat and the revolutionary leaders denounced it.
The meeting at Pillnitz Castle in 1791, oil painting by Johann Heinrich Schmidt.
The National Assembly of France interpreted the declaration to mean that Leopold was going to declare war. Radical Frenchmen who called for war used it as a pretext to gain influence and declare war on April 20, 1792, leading to the campaigns of 1792 in the French Revolutionary Wars.
The King, many of the Feuillants, and the Girondins wanted to wage war. Louis XVI and many Feuillants expected war would increase his personal popularity. He also foresaw an opportunity to exploit any defeat either result would make him stronger. The Girondins, on the other hand, wanted to export the Revolution throughout Europe and, by extension defend the Revolution within France.
The forces opposing war were much weaker. Some Feuillants believed France had little chance to win and feared a loss might lead to greater radicalization of the revolution. On the other end of the political spectrum, Robespierre opposed a war on two grounds: he was concerned it would strengthen the monarchy and military at the expense of the revolution and that it would incur the anger of ordinary people in Austria and elsewhere. The Austrian emperor Leopold II, brother of Marie Antoinette, wished to avoid war but died in March 1792. In addition to the ideological differences between France and the monarchical powers of Europe, disputes continued over the status of imperial estates in Alsace and the French authorities became concerned about the agitation of emigré nobles abroad, especially in the Austrian Netherlands and the minor states of Germany. France preemptively declared war on Austria (April 20, 1792) and Prussia joined on the Austrian side a few weeks later.
French Revolutionary Wars
What followed was a series of sweeping military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802 that would become known as the French Revolutionary Wars. They pitted the French First Republic against several monarchies, most notably Britain and Austria, and are divided in two periods: the War of the First Coalition (1792–1797) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802). Initially confined to Europe, the fighting gradually assumed a global dimension as the political ambitions of the Revolution expanded.
While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganized its armies, a mostly Prussian Allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Koblenz on the Rhine. In July the invasion commenced, with Brunswick’s army easily taking the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun. The duke then issued a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifesto (July 1792), written by the French king’s cousin, Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, the leader of an émigré corps within the Allied army. This document declared the Allies’ intent to restore the king to his full powers and treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial law. This, however, strengthened the resolve of the revolutionary army and government to oppose them by any means necessary. On August 10, a crowd stormed the Tuileries Palace, seizing the king and his family.
Anonymous caricature depicting the treatment given to the Brunswick Manifesto by the French population.
The Brunswick Manifesto, rather than intimidate the populace into submission, sent it into furious action and created fear and anger towards the Allies. It also spurred revolutionaries to take further action, organizing an uprising. On August 10, the Tuileries Palace was stormed in a bloody battle with Swiss Guards protecting it, the survivors of which were massacred by the mob.
The War of the First Coalition began with French victories, which rejuvenated the nation and emboldened the National Convention to abolish the monarchy. In 1793, the new French armies experienced numerous defeats, which allowed the Jacobins to rise to power and impose the Reign of Terror as a method of attempting to unify the nation. In 1794, the situation improved dramatically for the French. By 1795, they had captured the Austrian Netherlands and knocked Spain and Prussia out of the war with the Peace of Basel. A hitherto unknown general Napoleon Bonaparte began his first campaign in Italy in April 1796. In less than a year, French armies under Napoleon decimated the Habsburg forces and evicted them from the Italian peninsula, winning almost every battle and capturing 150,000 prisoners. With French forces marching towards Vienna, the Austrians sued for peace and agreed to the Treaty of Campo Formio, ending the First Coalition against the Republic.
The War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802) included an alliance of Britain, Austria, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, and Naples. Their goal was to contain the spread of chaos from France but they failed to overthrow the revolutionary regime, and French territorial gains since 1793 were confirmed. The Coalition did very well in 1799, but Russia pulled out. Napoleon took charge in France in late 1799 and he and his generals defeated the Coalition. In the Treaty of Lunéville in 1801, France held all of its previous gains and obtained new lands in Tuscany, Italy, while Austria was granted Venetia and the Dalmatian coast. Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, bringing an interval of peace in Europe that lasted for 14 months.
After a decade of constant warfare and aggressive diplomacy, France seized and conquered a wide array of territories, from the Italian Peninsula and the Low Countries in Europe to the Louisiana Territory in North America. French success in these conflicts ensured the spread of revolutionary principles over much of Europe.
6) Monarchs have morals &ndash their job is for life
Heirs to the throne are usually raised to know their position and to learn the ropes of their future job. This makes them more experienced than the politicians who govern the country.
The fact the role is life-long (very few Monarchs abdicate, save the Dutch, for whom it is tradition) means they can&rsquot be bought: they can&rsquot gain more power without lots of rule changes in Parliament and they don&rsquot need the money.
Save a few rogue leaders in the past, they also want to try the best for their people &ndash no one wants to be remembered in a bad light: Japanese Emperor Hirohito advocated for surrender after WWII, despite the military wanting to fight on, and he saved thousands of lives. And remember the coronation oath that British Monarchs swear? They &lsquosolemnly promise&rsquo to govern &lsquoaccording to their respective laws and customs&rsquo, as well as use &lsquoLaw and Justice, in Mercy [&hellip] in all judgements&rsquo, as well as protect the Church of England.
The Crown: Leadership, Followership, and Duty on Display
The Crown is a Sony-produced Netlix series portraying the reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The series uses a television drama format to present the never-ending series of decisions and challenges confronting the monarch of a world power. Traditional documentaries often treat their subjects as two-dimensional figures with the implicit understanding that their decisions and actions just had to happen exactly the way that things did. The documentary format uses a limited amount of creative license to portray the characters as fully-formed individuals. Obviously, creative license can undermine or alter an understanding of events, but the producers of the Crown take care to present Elizabeth and her supporting cast in a manner that mostly conforms to historian’s’ understanding of the people and events. Because of this, the Crown portrays Elizabeth and several other key figures in a way allows the series to be used as good layman’s introduction to leadership theory.
Leadership, Management, & Followership in context
Leadership, broadly speaking, refers to the behaviors and systems used to influence a desired outcome in a group setting. Leadership in the scholarly sense refers to the systematic examination of how leaders influence a desired outcome. Organizational theorists contrast this with management, which refers to the practice of controlling or directing a desired context in an organizational setting.
The obvious next question to ask is “how exactly are leadership and management different, because they sound the same to me?”. To clarify, leadership can take place in any group setting, formal or informal, while management only happens in a defined organization. Also, leadership focuses on the act of persuading action, while management focuses on the acts and processes of forcing change. Most organizational scholars agree that leadership and management are overlapping concepts, and that the leaders (and managers) of most organizations engage in both leadership and management behaviors and some point or another in the course of their duties. The distinctions between leadership and management are somewhat arbitrary, but scholars need these distinctions in order to think about these subjects in a systemic way, in order to gain insight into how people work in a group environment.
The topic of followership is a little trickier, because studying how people behave as subordinates only recently became a topic for Western scholars. Intuitively, people understand followership as the behavior of cooperation and subordination to a collective goal, but no one spent the time looking at followership in a systematic way. Robert Kelley delved into an analuss of the common traits for effective members of organizations in his 1988 in his 1988 Harvard Business Review article, In Praise of Followers . Kelley argued that the common traits of effective followers were self-management, alignment between the follower’s goals and the goals of the organization, a continual process of self-improvement, and a commitment to “courageous, honest, and credible” behavior.
Leadership as Calling
The Crown portrays nobility as being first and foremost a divine calling. An early episode features Elizabeth’s mother (the wife of the late King George VI, who carries the title of Queen Mother after the passing of her husband and the coronation of her daughter) explaining to her soon-to-be crowned daughter that the crown is above all else an obligation of service. The Queen Mother says, “the monarchy is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth.” The Queen Mother’s asserts that the positions of responsibility individuals are thrust should be treated as an individual calling and one’s Christian duty.
Elizabeth’s accepting the call to serve contrasts with her uncle’s shirking of responsibility. Her Uncle Edward (his family called him David) was the former King Edward VIII and later Duke of Windsor. Edward abdicated as king months after his coronation in order to marry an American divorcée. A royal’s marriage to a divorcee started a constitutional crisis throughout the Commonwealth that could have disrupted British unity on the eve of WWII. The Crown portrays Edward as a self-absorbed dilettante whose only concern was the wealth and fame that he could obtain from his titles. Edward’s abdication is the action which made Elizabeth’s father King, and ultimately forced the monarchy onto Elizabeth herself.
A running theme throughout the series is responsibility of the monarch to act in the best interests of the people, even when that conflicts with popular desires of the populace. Elizabeth learns of her father’s passing and her obligation to assume the throne while Elizabeth and her husband made a global tour of Commonwealth territories, a tour meant to show the presence of the monarchy and their concern for crown subjects throughout the Commonwealth. Elizabeth’s father tells Prime Minister Winston Churchill that the trip is meant to prepare Elizabeth for her future role as queen by requiring her to learn the needs of her subjects.
Education of Royal Family members emphasizes the role of servant leadership in British society. Elizabeth was personally tutored by an Eaton College professor as to the importance of service by the aristocracy to their nation. And the education that both Phillip and his son Charles receive is seen as a preparation for future public leaders
These subplots present the idea of servant leadership. Servant leadership is a leadership theory that leaders are effective when they put the needs of their subordinates first. Elizabeth’s service to her subjects is an example of a leader affecting change by putting the wellbeing of their subordinates first. Conversely, Edward is portrayed as the opposite of servant leadership, always putting his need for self-aggrandizement as the first priority for his actions.
Trait Theory of Leadership
The trait theory of leadership is one of the oldest and least respected leadership theories. Critics deride it as “the great man theory” of leadership, pointing out that great men rarely appear in history. Furthermore, there is little incentive to dwell on traits which may be at least somewhat innate. After all, what good is a theory of leadership that focuses on things that one may not be able to change?
Nonetheless, a revised trait theory does have value when one examines traits that may be influenced, as well the processes that go into identifying informal leaders. Stodgill asserts a number of common leadership traits common across most environments that he studied, including a personal sense of responsibility, a commitment to excellence, and concern for the wellbeing of subordinates. One insight of trait theory is informal group leaders emerge when someone is seen as the prototypical example of what is expected for a particular organization. In that sense, leaders should first strive for excellence in their professional competency and ethical conduct.
In the Crown we see Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, as a man raised since his early teens to be the prototype of what an old pattern British aristocrat was meant to be a smart, capable man who possesses both social grace, and the ability to command troops at war. The series presents in detail the importance of Prince Phillip’s role as a personal representative of the Crown as royal emissary to a number of now-independent Commonwealth states, as well as the importance of his role as ceremonial head of the Royal Navy and Airforce. The series focuses on Phillip’s experience at public school, and the role of his alma mater in teaching him the values of duty, public service, and the need to be the best version of himself that he could be.
As stated above, deals with the subject of how people collaborative work to achieve a group’s goals. While followership is a fairly new topic from the perspective of organizational theory, it is one of the oldest topics from the perspective of classical European and Christian ethics. Medieval Christian ethics codified a series of mutual obligations that tied lords and vassals together.
In the Power of Followership, Kelley delivered one of the first modern examinations of the subject. Kelley divided followers into 4 types, the first are “effective followers”, defined by their need of little management oversight and their willingness to use their judgement in the service of their organization and leaders. The second “yes people”, defined by both a sycophantic compliance with the letter of managerial decisions and a lack of judgment and initiative that prevents them from fulfilling the intent of their leaders’ decisions. The third type of followers are “sheep”, defined by their need of detailed instructions and lack of individual judgement. The final type is “alienated followers”, defined by their hostility to their leadership.
The series presents Peter Townsend as the epitome of an effective follower. Townsend is a Royal Airforce colonel who served as King George’s aide de camp. Viewers see him as the man managing the daily minutiae of the Crown’s affairs. Townsend functions much like a chief of staff for a contemporary general officer or business executive, managing the torrential flow of information that comes into any executive’s office. The King trusted Townsend to act on his behalf, allowing him to decide who would have direct access to him, allowing Townsend to prioritize the public events requested of the King, and trusting Colonel Townsend to write many of the draft speeches and official communications on behalf of the King. When the King passes, Townsend is portrayed as the one official in the government most concerned that Elizabeth receives accurate information when she makes decisions. Peter Townsend’s behavior contrasts with that of most advisors that Elizabeth inherits at the start of her reign.
Alan (Tommy) Lascelles is the archetype of alienated follower. Tommy was the former personal secretary to King George who served as Elizabeth’s advisor during the early years of her reign. Tommy uses his competency and initiative to manipulate Elizabeth into pursuing his interests. Tommy’s primary interest was preserving what he saw as the appropriate solemnity concerning the British monarchy. One could argue as to whether or not that is an appropriate concern, but the series clearly Tommy as an adversarial follower who uses his competency and initiative to undermine his organization and leadership.
It is noteworthy that few if any characters in the series are portrayed as sheep or yes people. In his various publications, Kelley points out that most new members of organizations behave as sheep in the beginning. An individual might have the potential to become an effective follower, but until they develop the competency and understanding of their organizational mission, they require a great deal of supervision and individual development. The series displays numerous circumstances where Queen Elizabeth, her father the late King, or Prince Phillip put the time and energy into developing the abilities of their children and their subordinates. Similarly, the show presents Elizabeth’s challenge as a leader to identify and remove subordinates who behave as sycophants.
The Crown provides a surprisingly deep examination into the topics of leadership and followership from Christian perspective. The series portrays Elizabeth as a Christian leader pursing her calling as head of state of the United Kingdom, with a great deal of attention placed on how human relationships influence politics. The topics discussed above are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of examining one woman’s life as a demonstration of leadership theory.
Micah Jenkins is a former US military officer and freelance writer. His work primarily deals with leadership, organizational theory, and its applications.
King John was born in 1167 and died in 1216. Like William I, King John is one of the more controversial monarchs of Medieval England and is most associated with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.
John was born on Christmas Eve, the youngest son of Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. As a child, John tended to be overshadowed by is older brother Richard. Like his father, John developed a reputation for violent rages which lead to him foaming at the mouth. Henry left no land to John when he died so John was given the nick-name John Lackland. In 1189, all of Henry’s territory went to his oldest son, Richard I, better known as Richard the Lionheart.
In 1191, Richard left England to embark on the Third Crusade. He left John in charge of the country. John’s reputation as a leader had been severely dented as far back as 1185 when Henry II sent him to Ireland to rule. John proved to be a disaster and within six months he was sent home.
In 1192, Richard was imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria as he returned from the Crusades. John tried to seize the crown from his brother but failed. In 1194, when Richard finally returned to England, John was forgiven by his brother.
In 1199, Richard was killed in France and John became the king of England. His reign started in an unfortunate way. In 1202, John’s nephew, Arthur of Brittany, was murdered. Many in Brittany believed that John was responsible for his murder and they rebelled against John. In 1204, John’s army was defeated in Brittany and John had no choice but to retreat. His military standing among the nobles fell and he was given a new nickname – John Softsword. The defeat in north France was a major blow for John and a costly one. To pay for the defeat, John increased taxes which was not popular with anybody other than John and his treasurers.
John also succeeded in falling out with the pope in 1207. John quarreled with the pope over who should be Archbishop of Canterbury. The pope excommunicated John and put England under a Church law that stated that no christening or marriage would be legal until the time the pope said that they would be. Church law said that only christened people could get to Heaven while children born out of marriage were doomed to Hell. This placed people in England under a terrible strain and they blamed one person for this – John.
In 1213, John had to give in and surrender the spiritual well-being of the whole country to the pope. However, the pope never fully trusted John and in 1214, the pope proclaimed that anybody who tried to overthrow John would be legally entitled to do so. In the same year, John lost another battle to the French at Bouvines. This defeat resulted in England losing all her possessions in France. This was too much for the powerful barons in England. In 1214, they rebelled.
John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. This guaranteed the people of England rights that the king could not go back on. In 1216, John tried to go back on the Magna Carta but this only provoked the barons into declaring war on him. By 1216, John was ill. During the war, he suffered from dysentery. He also lost all of his treasure when he tried to take a shortcut across a stretch of water in the Wash, Lincolnshire. As the tide rose faster than he expected, his baggage train was engulfed. Just a few days later, John died and was succeeded by Henry III.
Despite the obvious failings of John, there is still some evidence that he was not as bad as some have tried to make him out to be since his death. It certainly was not uncommon for kings to have their names tarnished when they were not alive to defend themselves!